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The real estate market in Northern Virginia over the past 15 years has created a boom and bust cycle for lawyers who specialize in planning and zoning work. Now, with new commercial buildings sprouting like weeds along the Dulles Corridor, the good times are back. Last month, two major real estate groups switched firms. The McLean, Va., office of Richmond, Va.’s McGuire Woods and the D.C. firm Wilkes Artis were the losers this round, while D.C.-based Shaw Pittman and Palo Alto, Calif.-based Cooley Godward were the winners. Cooley, which has an office in Reston, Va., took on three partners, two associates, and two planners from McGuire Woods. Shaw Pittman’s D.C. office gained eight new people from Wilkes Artis, while the McLean office added one new partner from McGuire Woods. The 300-plus lawyer firm now has a 42-attorney real estate department. “Particularly in northern Virginia there’s a demand for real estate lawyers to serve technology clients,” says Martha Ann Sisson of the D.C. headhunting firm Garrison & Sisson. “It’s a market that was dormant for the last five years, so not many people were groomed for it. The supply is very small, but the demand is high.” Real estate lawyers tend to have old economy client bases. But for the recent lateral movers, hooking up with firms that could offer deeper connections with the technology community was something they couldn’t turn down. “Even at the smallest startup, the first thing they need is office space,” says Susan Mullen, a partner at McGuire Woods who is now special counsel at Cooley. “Then beyond that there are very successful and large players coming into the market, and they need entire office buildings and even campuses.” Coming over along with Mullen are partners John Toole and Antonio Calabrese, associates Gregory Leydon and Mark Looney, and urban planners Jeff Nein and Stacey Rothfuss. Looney worked at the Fairfax, Va., Chamber of Commerce for almost a decade before joining McGuire Woods. CONFLICT DENIED One of Calabrese’s clients may raise some eyebrows at Reston Town Center, where Cooley and several other firms have offices. Calabrese represents Terrabrook, one of two developers of the Town Center that are trying to resolve a dispute over density allocations of their planned office towers. The other developer is Equity Office Properties Trust, which happens to be Cooley’s prospective landlord. Calabrese did not seem concerned about a potential conflict. “We have represented Terrabrook and are representing them now at Cooley,” he says. “I’m confident [Terrabrook and Equity] will iron this out soon.” One headhunter in the area notes that the partners who moved to Shaw Pittman and Cooley Godward likely will double the draws they were taking at Wilkes Artis and McGuire Woods. According to The American Lawyer magazine, McGuire Woods had profits per partner last year of $295,000, whereas Cooley partners pulled in an average of $665,000. Shaw Pittman partners last year took home an average of $515,000. Figures are not available for Wilkes Artis. The group that moved to Shaw Pittman includes Fairfax zoning guru and former McGuire Woods partner David Houston in the McLean office, and D.C. partners Maureen Dwyer and Phil Feola, counsel Allison Prince and John Epting, associates Paul Tummonds and Sarah Shaw, architectural historian Anne Adams, and real estate development specialist Diana Herndon, all from Wilkes Artis. The Wilkes Artis team had worked frequently with Shaw Pittman on D.C.-based projects. Michael Flemming, managing partner of McGuire Woods’ McLean office, acknowledges that it’s difficult to see a group of partners go, but notes that with 12 remaining real estate attorneys and several urban planners, “We’ve got a good group here. We need to hire three or four more attorneys. But we have had a good, healthy real estate practice and still do.”

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